Review: The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Steven Baxter

I waited a long time to start reading this book, although I pre-ordered it the day I saw that it would be available. I don’t like to read about war, and having read the first book, which ended on a very sour note, I did not want to spend a lot of time there. I won’t comment more on that, but this is not Starship Troopers, the first science fiction book I ever read (1960?), though I can hear echoes of the Grand Master here and there.

But I started reading, only 100 pages a day, to give me time to keep up with some other projects, and I’m glad I did. I feel like the story has just started, not at the beginning where the point was to walk through the world and see what there was to see, but to be in the true Long Earth.The sequel starts out ten years later, having allowed the story world to marinate in its own juice and bring out the flavors, like lasagna or banana pudding eaten on the second day.

Unfortunately, as much as I loved moments of the book, the over-arc did not happen for me. The book is episodic in ways that kept me from really getting involved with the characters. Individually I love each one, but overall, it’s like watching a security camera from a distance. I could see what was happening but I kept waiting for a story to emerge, not that they just braid together like a bunch of mouse cords thrown in a box for a year, all tangled up but not functional. I got the feeling that the point is that the world is just so big that we can just surf through it like stressed-out tourists on a 500-worlds-in-a-week tour.

That’s not what I wanted.

The thing that I most love about Terry Pratchett, my writing hero, is his way of twisting the narritivium to include allusions to the Round World in whatever he writes, especially when it is set in the Round World. This book has me cackling every so often with a smirking bit that makes sense in the context, on many levels but is so much funnier if you are in on the joke, a twist on a favorite phrase from Robert Heinlein:

“THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LAUNCH.” (p. 190) as a corporate slogan of Gap East 1, an experimental space station in the universe near the Gap, where some random asteroid took out the entire Earth, not just the dinosaurs. One character notes that this earth is like an on-going science fiction convention (a con) with the same constellation of nerdy personalities and brilliant problem-solvers. I so want to go there, just to be in that heady environment.

Pratchett and Baxter must have cut their eye teeth on the same books that I did, and they are much more famous in the nerdosphere than I even aspire to be. All through this book, like sesame seeds on a bun or nuts in banana bread, are little references to here and now, things that will likely be so dated in 20 years that nobody will know what it means, and somebody will write a thesis on it, like the book I once saw on the allusions in Ulysses by James Joyce.

I so wanted to love this book, but just didn’t.

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